Hacking Abortion Access

Kate Bertash and other organizers of the Abortion Access Hackathon

Portrait of Kate Bertash, by Gretchen Röehrs
Kate Bertash, by Gretchen Röehrs

Everyone, or someone they know, has had an abortion. The most recent data suggest that nearly one in three American women has one before the age of forty-five; most of these women already have children. But the election of Donald Trump and Mike Pence has emboldened Republicans to begin a wave of attacks on reproductive rights.

Between Election Day and the inauguration, Oklahoma introduced a law that would ban abortion as soon as a fetal “heartbeat” can be detected—usually around four weeks after fertilization, before many women know they are pregnant. Texas pushed ahead a bill that would require women and hospitals to bury the fetal remains in the case of abortion or miscarriage. On his first day in office, Trump signed the Mexico Act, ending aid to any NGO that so much as discusses abortion abroad. Mike Pence became the first sitting vice president and highest ranking official ever to address the March for Life in Washington, DC. Trump has cleared the way for states to end all funding to Planned Parenthood. Legislators in Oklahoma introduced a bill that would require women seeking abortions to obtain written permission from the father of the child. “I know they feel like it’s their body,” Republican Justin Humphrey said, “but it’s a host.”

With the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, Roe v. Wade itself may be in danger. So far, however, threats to access have proceeded piecemeal. Rather than contest the fundamental right to privacy between a woman and her doctor that was the basis of the 1973 ruling, anti-choice activists have tried to create obstacles and inconveniences. Given that 75% of American women who seek abortions live under the poverty line, long distances to travel, mandatory waiting periods, and unnecessary additional procedures pose a serious obstacle to access.

On the first weekend of March 2017, over two hundred volunteers gathered at the GitHub headquarters in San Francisco to respond in kind: they held an Abortion Access Hackathon to develop tech-powered “subversions and workarounds.” Most of them were women.

The inaugural Abortion Access Hackathon had taken place in September 2016 at UC Davis, organized by sisters Emily and Somer Loen and Shireen Whitaker, who knew one another from volunteering at a Sacramento reproductive justice organization. Like the first hackathon, the weekend at GitHub focused on the needs of “abortion funds”—grassroots organizations that provide funding and logistical support to women in need. Despite the greater name recognition of Planned Parenthood, the majority of abortions are still performed by the kinds of local clinics to which abortion funds send women.

The User Research Study that volunteers conducted with abortion funds, clinics, and the public before the hackathon identified a few primary categories of needs:

  • Before the procedure: Funding, outreach, staff training, pre-care, travel logistics and policy advocacy.
  • After the procedure: Post-care, payment, and record-keeping.

One of the most urgent demands, Abortion Access Hackathon organizer Kate Bertash emphasized, is better security. Last year, the annual “bowl-a-thon” to raise funds for the National Network of Abortion Funds was hacked—exposing personal information that endangered donors and volunteers, and causing a shortfall in the budget. (It is no small thing to have your identity and address discovered by anti-choice activists: according to the National Abortion Federation, since the “underground videos” of Planned Parenthood were released in 2015, credible threats of violence against clinics and providers have increased nearly one hundredfold.)

Below are a few of the projects that the Abortion Access Hackathon’s participants came up with.

Vettit

The abortion funds attending the hackathon all said they have seen a groundswell of folks interested in volunteering since the election. However, they also said that vetting prospective volunteers takes an enormous amount of work. Anti-abortion activists who pose as clinic escorts represent a serious threat to both patients and providers.

Vettit is an app that aggregates social media accounts and the web presence for applicants so that they can be reviewed easily, in much the same way that Airbnb vets potential hosts and guests. It was created by some of the volunteers who vetted applicants for the Abortion Access Hackathon itself. At time of publication they were about to move to beta.

See Vettit at http://www.vettit.co.

Contribu

A majority of women seeking abortions are poor, and the Hyde Amendment prevents Medicaid from covering the procedure. Many abortion funds only has enough resources to help one in four people who call. At the same time, millennials are becoming a bigger and bigger segment of the population—and they overwhelmingly support a woman’s right to choose.

Contribu is an app that aims to encourage millennial philanthropy by making it easy for users to donate to support abortion access. It offers features like a “Challenge of the Week” to incentivize small, regular contributions: the challenge might be to pledge a few dollars to the National Network of Abortion Funds every time a user makes a purchase with Apple Pay. Another feature, “Story of the Week, would tell the user about one of the women whom her donations are helping. The app could also encourage donors to leverage their social networks by telling friends about their giving--and encouraging them to match:

See the GitHub repo at https://github.com/myralukens/dinosaur.

Termina

Termina lets women navigate their reproductive choices without going down a spiral of “awful Google searches.” Anyone who has spent time trying to figure out reproductive health options online knows how frightening this can be. And most hotlines that provide information on abortion use human volunteers who may have trouble parsing the ever-changing patchwork of state laws.

This app would let women discover their abortion options by entering only three pieces of information, drawing on a database of relevant laws:

  1. the first day of their last period
  2. their zip code
  3. their age

At time of publication, they had merged with another team from the hacakthon, Project Amelia, to work on a clinic finder API. See Termina at tinyurl.com/aah-termina.

Net Effective

Given the increasing polarization of political opinion in the United States, and the particularly polarizing nature of abortion, some participants at the hackathon were interested in finding ways to make abortion advocacy more effective and targeted. In other words, they didn’t want to spend their time preaching to the choir.

Net Effective is a site that has users authenticate through Facebook, and then shows them which of their friends live in states with restrictive abortion laws. It provides a link that users can send their friends with phone numbers for their representatives and ready-made scripts to use. In the future, Net Effective’s developers hope to let users search their contacts through more social networks, including Twitter and LinkedIn.


This has been a free interview from Tech Against Trump, a book by Logic chronicling the rising tide of anti-Trump resistance by tech workers and technologists.

To read the rest of the book, head on over to our store and buy the book. Like our work?
Subscribe for future issues!


< Back to the Table of Contents